UK & World News

  • 12 March 2013, 18:35

Pope Election: Cardinal Conclave Begins

Cardinals filed into the Sistine Chapel today for the first round of voting to elect a new pope for the Roman Catholic Church.

Wearing their red berettas, the 115 Princes of the Church walked somberly into the Sistine Chapel adorned with Michelangelo's frescoes and were accompanied by the atmospheric chanting of the Litany of Saints.

Once inside, the Renaissance venue prayers were said, and no doubt still fresh in their minds was the sermon given just hours earlier by the Dean of the College of cardinals Angelo Sodano.

Inside a packed St Peter's Basilica, while rain, hail and lightening flashed across the sky he had spoken at a Mass traditionally held ahead of the conclave and said: "My brothers let us pray that The Lord will grant us a pontiff who will embrace this noble mission with a generous heart."

Applause had run through the basilica as he mentioned the name of former Pope Benedict XVI who shocked the world last month with his decision to step down - the first Pontiff to do so in 600 years.

Vatican sources said Benedict watched the Mass from his new home at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo near Rome, while his faithful private secretary and head of the papal household Monsignor Georg Ganswein attended the service.

Britain's most senior Roman Catholic Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor was also at the Mass but he will not take part in the conclave as he is above the voting age of 80 and so was the Government's representative ambassador Nigel Baker.

Outside, dozens of people braved the elements as they gathered to watch the Mass on giant screens dotted around St Peter's Square with one barefooted pilgrim kneeling down on the rain soaked cobbles.

Applause mixed with a loud thunderclap rang out across Rome as Cardinal Sodano mentioned the former pope thanking him for his eight years in office and expressing the gratitude of all towards him, describing him as "beloved and venerable".

Speaking to Sky News Online, Cardinal Cormac said: "It was a very solemn Mass and looking around at my fellow cardinals I could see them all praying intensely and I'm sure they were wondering who among them would be the next pope.

"There was applause when Cardinal Sodano mentioned former pope Benedict's name and he stressed how the Church should not be afraid and not be worried about the future and of course he asked for a generous and loving pope, one displaying the goodness of the Church."

The 90 minute Mass was mainly in Latin but there were also readings in English and Spanish, while the sermon was in Italian with prayers in French, Swahili, Portuguese, German and Malayalam, which is spoken mainly in India.

Cardinals filed into the Sistine Chapel behind a crucifix and once inside they all swore an oath of secrecy in which they promised not to reveal their deliberations to anyone own punishment of excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church.

Two Swiss Guards - the foot soldiers of the Pope - in their colourful uniforms stood to attention outside the Sistine Chapel holding fearsome pikes while cardinal Ivan Dias arrived in a wheelchair.

Italian TV picked out Boston cardinal Sean O'Malley who has been a familiar sight around Rome with his white beard and sandals.

Millions around the world watched as the Master of Ceremonies Monsignor Guido Marini then called out in Latin 'extra omnes', or 'everybody out'. This was followed by the doors of the Sistine Chapel closing as the cardinals begin their deliberations.

The word conclave comes from the Latin 'con clavum' or 'with key' as cardinals in the past were kept locked in a room until they came up with a new pope - although one person did leave after the doors had closed, the Maltese cardinal Proseper Grech who gave the final sermon.

As part of the selection process a jamming device has been installed in the chapel as the cardinals are not allowed to have any contact with the outside world which could influence their vote or break their vow of secrecy.

The secret ballot will involve cardinals writing the name of their preferred candidate on a slip of paper - trying to disguise their handwriting if possible - which they will then place on a tray with the ballot then sliding into an urn.

Once all the votes are counted by the scrutineers they are pierced with a needle through the Latin phrase 'eligo in summum pontificem' (I elect as supreme pontiff) and a thread is fed through them. The key figure is 77 votes, two thirds of the 115 elector cardinals plus one.

If no clear winner emerges then the voting papers are put into a 74-year-old stove which has been specially installed in the Sistine Chapel and burnt chemicals are added to produce white smoke, to show a winner has emerged and black if still no decision.

Meanwhile the city of Rome itself began preparations for the inaugural Mass of the new pope which is expected to take place on Sunday or Monday, with more than 60 heads of state expected as well as 150,000 pilgrims.

Extra police have been drafted into Rome to help control the crowds and bus services have have also been increased, while three major sporting events are also adding to the security nightmare - on Saturday Italy play Ireland in a Six Nations tie, Roma are at home against Parma and it's also the city's marathon.

Officials have already said the rugby is unlikely to be affected but if the conclave is still going the route of the marathon will change and if an inaugural Mass is taking place the start will be delayed until 2pm. No decision has yet been taken of the football which is an evening kick off.